The Museum’s Health Sciences Department is partnering with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus to publish a monthly series on the Museum blog called “Know Health”. The articles focus on current health topics selected by CU’s medical and graduate students in order to provide both English and Spanish speaking communities with current, accurate information. The posts in the “Know Health” series are edited versions of articles that first appeared in Contrapoder magazine. Thank you to the students at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus for bringing these stories to life.
(aka Dr. Nicole Garneau, chair and curator, Health Sciences Department)
By Guest Author, Katie Arnolds
Katie Arnolds is a graduate student at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus
When it comes to reaping the health benefits of exercising, it may not only be what you do, but where you do it. You may be surprised to learn that exercising outdoors offers benefits over working out at a gym or in your home.
Many studies, including a recent large project from Glasgow University have found that one of the major benefits to exercising outdoors is that it can improve your mood. Participants who went for walks outside reported higher levels of energy, vitality, and enjoyment as well as lower levels of depression, tension and fatigue than those who walked indoors on a track or treadmill. Researchers from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry also observed that individuals who exercised outdoors tend to do so more frequently and for longer time intervals. Interestingly, those exercising outdoors were more likely to stick to a regimen than those who worked out indoors. While it isn’t fully understood how breaking a sweat in the outdoors contributes to this effect, several studies have noted that the levels of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress) were lower in individuals that had been exercising outdoors versus indoors. Additionally, when you exercise outdoors, you are exposed to sunshine, thus increasing vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is known to influence sleep quality and the production of endorphins (hormones known to reduce pain and stress). Finally, the simple pleasure of being in nature and getting fresh air may contribute to the mood boosting effect of outdoor exercise.
Exercising outdoors may also make your workout more effective. Research has shown that runners and cyclists burned more calories covering the same distance when they exercised outside versus in a gym. The outdoors pose variations in terrain and environmental exposure (such as wind resistance), while an indoor track is more uniform in nature. Different muscle groups are engaged to accommodate these variations; consequently, outdoor exercise has a greater overall impact on the body, than performing similar activities inside. So, if you don’t have much time, you may get more out of that short run or ride if you take it outdoors.
The final benefit, and most surprising of all, is energy. It is well known that exercise can boost your energy levels, however, many people don’t realize that they can reap similar results just from being outdoors. In fact, a 20-minute break spent outside has the same energizing effect as a cup of coffee! Therefore if you take your workout outside you may feel even more energized!
While exercising in a gym may pose appealing factors, including temperature control, trainers, and equipment, gyms can also be quite costly. In contrast, exercising outdoors doesn’t cost a thing and you can still get a great comprehensive workout by using your own body weight and environmental props. Ready to make the switch? There are a few things to keep in mind when opting to workout outdoors. You should protect yourself from overexposure to UV rays by wearing sunscreen and protective gear. You also want to be prepared for weather changes, and carry plenty of water. If you live in an area with high air pollution, you should opt to do your cardio exercises indoors when air quality is poor.
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Finding the motivation to exercise and sticking to a regimen can be a challenge for all of us, but being outdoors can make your workout routine more effective and easier to maintain. It can even leave you in a better mood! So grab a friend and head outside!